Digital safety

If you open yourself to the benefits and opportunities of the internet, you expose yourself to its risks and dangers at the same time. While much of the discussion of internet dangers for young people is exaggerated and ill-informed, it's true that there are some safety and privacy issues. It is therefore important to put into place well-considered educational strategies which offer young people guidance on possible risks. There are three main areas to consider, as outlined below.

►digital safety

Traditionally, the greatest risks have been seen as:

  • cyberbullying, which, depending on how it is defined, has been found to affect between 4 and 46% of youth;
  • cyberpredation, which, although a serious crime, affects a very small proportion of youth;
  • exposure to inappropriate material, which, depending on what is considered to be inappropriate, is found to affect varying numbers of young people.

The greatest risks are found in interactive channels like chatrooms, instant messaging (and of course text messaging on mobile phones) and, to a lesser extent, social networking sites.

►digital privacy

More recently, it's become clear that it's equally important to educate youth to safeguard their privacy online and to be aware that material they post to social networking or social sharing sites may leave a permanent data trail or digital footprint (sometimes also called a digital shadow). In particular, it's important to advise young people - and indeed, adults - to tighten up their privacy settings on social networking sites. This will help safeguard them from identity theft, as well as offering some protection from cyberbullying and cyberpredation.

►digital reputation

As more and more companies and colleges conduct internet searches on potential candidates, and as more and more people check out online data about individuals they're doing business with, it's becoming increasingly important for all of us to manage our digital reputations. It's important to remind young people that inappropriate status updates or photos may negatively impact job opportunities far into the future, while evidence of creative PLEs, rich PLNs, or polished e-portfolios can help create a positive impression of their skills and abilities.

►educational resources

Fortunately, a number of governments and other organisations are producing valuable educational materials for a variety of age groups and contexts. Most of these deal primarily with issues of digital safety and digital privacy. The following list contains some useful resources:

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